Stopping for school buses
Fairfield Police Chief David Thomas addressed the city council Monday about his department’s efforts to educate the public on school bus stop arm violations.
Passing a stopped school bus that has activated its lights or extended its stop arm is illegal, and the penalty ranges from a fine of $250-$675 and/or up to 30 days in jail. The Iowa Department of Transportation will also suspend the person’s driver’s license for 30 days.
Thomas said he’s talked with Assistant Jefferson County Attorney Pat McAvan about the alarming number of school bus passing violations in the last year. McAvan told him the number of violations in the past year equaled the three previous years combined.
Councilor Daryn Hamilton asked Thomas how such a surprisingly uptick was possible, particularly given that passing a stopped school bus has been illegal for many years. Thomas said the real story might be that bus drivers are better at documenting violations than they were in the past.
Thomas said bus drivers are now accustomed to taking photos of cars illegally passing them, and that those photos can be used as evidence in court. Before the advent of cell phone cameras, drivers had little chance to see or write down an entire license plate number, so many violators went unpunished.
“We prefer positive education,” said Thomas, remarking that he much prefers preventing violations before they occur rather than chasing after the perpetrators.
Thomas said many of the instances of illegal passing have occurred on Burlington Avenue. Mayor Ed Malloy speculated that, since Burlington is a three-lane road, some drivers might assume that they can pass a bus as long as they do it slowly and give it enough room.
“They need to know that the middle lane is not a passing lane,” Malloy said.
Councilor Michael Halley asked Thomas if there was some confusion about whether cars approaching a school bus have to stop.
Thomas said his department has been trying to educate people that even oncoming cars have to stop for a bus with its lights flashing and stop-arm out. He said that applies to three-lane roads like Burlington, too.